What is Product Management?

I just came across an interesting article that discusses the Product Management role.  As you can see from this post it’s quite topical, so I have commented on some extracts below.

What is Product Management?

Most people accept that “product management” is a term used to describe the sum of diverse activities performed in the interest of delivering a particular product to market. Such a broad definition, used by many companies today, is the root of much grief because it dilutes the professional focus necessary to achieve successful results and allows virtually any product-related task to be assigned to the product manager.

I agree that this definition is too broad,  I believe we address it in my company by assigning project managers to do the delivery management and focusing on ensuring that the lifecycle management activities can be achieved effectively, rather than trying to do them all ourselves! 

The overall perceived obstacle that the typical product manager encounters is the pervasive lack of professional focus. One can be adequate at many things, but it is difficult to excel at many. Many product managers therefore view themselves as trapped in a never-ending juggling routine. Having too many tasks to juggle eventually leads to tasks being dropped; the outcome is poor overall performance by the product manager, which is detrimental for the company.

I think the next section makes a useful point.  Product Management in my company is focussed on the Planning element of the management role, rather than the marketing, but its important that the products are well positioned and have clear roadmaps so that Marketing know what to market.

The two main disciplines residing in the product management domain are product planning and product marketing, which are very different from each other. But due to the collaboration between these two disciplines, some companies erroneously perceive them as one discipline—which they call product management.   If done carefully, it is possible to functionally divide the product management domain into product planning and product marketing, yet retain the required synergy between the two.

This next section talks about one of the key roles of Product Management, that of defining the requirements of the market and also the potential demand.  However it misses, in our business, the fact that our products are in fact services that have a life beyond the initial sale.

Product planning is the ongoing process of identifying and articulating market requirements that define a product’s feature set. Product marketing is an outbound activity aimed at generating product awareness, differentiation and demand.

Product planning and product marketing are different and distinct professional disciplines, because they foster different roles and different quality goals.

With such a conceptualization, it is easy to address the respective tasks of product planning and product marketing as belonging to the roles of a product planner and a product marketer.

It then goes on to provide a very nice example of one of the challenges faced by the Product Manager, the fact that the buyer is rarely representative of the user.  This is particularly true when you are selling enterprise IT services.  It is doubly important because not only is the making a sale important but also long term customer satisfaction.

To clarify: an intuitive example of this is a child’s toy. The parent is the buyer and has an interest in whether the toy is safe to use, will help the child grow smarter, will keep the child occupied and is reasonably priced. Product value is therefore marketed to the buyer, the parent.

The child cares only about product functionality, such as whether the toy is fun, engaging and visually pleasing, and whether it will do what he/she wants. The toy’s functionality is designed for the user—the child—and not for the buyer.

This next section illustrates perfectly where someone like me can help,  it describes how often tactical activities divert Product Managers from the strategic elements of their roles.  As someone highly motivated and to some extent constrained to focus on longer term strategic goals this is very relevant.

The recent fast-paced growth of high-tech industries and the shifting interpretations of product management created skewed responsibility sets for product managers. The already-problematic, broad definition of product management was further complicated when tactical activities were added to a product manager’s job definition.

Tactical activities are assignments, usually self-contained and specific, that fulfill short-term business needs. Those assignments—such as delivering a presentation, writing collateral material or assisting a salesperson—are time-consuming and demand a disproportionate allocation of individual resources (mental focus, time and physical effort) in relation to their overall importance.

By monopolizing the scope of work, tactical activities detract from the product managers’ ability to fulfill the strategic responsibilities assigned to them.

So what is a Product Managers key objective, this section describes it nicely: 

The product planner determines and defines product functionality, and therefore the prime goal is to have product buyers and users who are satisfied with the product. This means (1) contentment with the product’s ability to solve business or consumer problems and satisfy needs and (2) satisfaction with the intangible aspects of product ownership, such as service, price, warrantee, status or prestige.

I also think the Product Manager is key to helping the product marketer achieve their goal:

The product marketer’s goal is to have a satisfied sales force. This goal is somewhat indirect to the marketing actions being performed, but it is an excellent predictor of how effective the product marketer’s actions are in generating awareness, differentiation and demand for the product.

Salespeople have a relatively easy job when product marketers perform their roles well. The market environment created by the product marketer leads to a favorable situation in which the market actively buys the product rather than the salespeople having to actively sell the product. Salespeople are very happy when “the product sells itself,” which really means that the sale cycle is minimal or reduced because of quality marketing by product marketers.

The next point is “music to my ears”, the need to work together as a team:

In short, product planning’s quality goal is satisfied customers, and product marketing’s quality goal is a satisfied sales force. After defining the strategic roles of the key disciplines within the product management domain, there is a need for a cooperative scheme—a team concept—to maximize the effectiveness of these strategic roles through collaboration and complement them with outbound tactical support functions.

Product management is not accomplished successfully by only one person but by a product management team, the members of which fulfill various roles and functions.

Team design is not easy though, in the team model described below, my proposed role is closest to Product Planner role, which of course may be delivered by a team not an individual.

The product management team is a task group that organizationally resides in the Product Management department and has four distinct roles: product planner, product marketer, sales engineer and marketing communications (marcom) manager.

These four roles are the basic providers of the planning, deliverables and actions that guide the inbound-oriented product definition and the outbound marketing efforts:

And that Product Planner role is nicely described here:

The primary responsibility of the product planner is to constantly research the market and identify market needs, which are later translated into market requirements that will foster new products or new features to existing products. The product planner prepares the documents that profoundly impact the product’s success. These documents include the Market Requirements Document (MRD), product use cases, product road map and the pricing model.

I extend that role in my conceptual role though because the product/service needs to continue to meet the needs of its customers, so understanding the evolving business need, the service delivery performance and the level of customer satisfaction is key as well. Also key is working with our researchers to understand what disruptive business, social, political or technological changes may be coming along that need a more radical review of the products/services.

The next sections describe the product marketer role:

The primary responsibility of the product marketer is to analyze product-oriented business opportunities, formulate plans that evaluate those business opportunities, and plan and guide the subsequent marketing efforts. For example, the product marketer prepares the product business case and following approval, writes the marketing plan, launch plan and communications plan.

Then comes the sales engineer role, this role is interesting because I believe that I can help create many of the assets that sales engineers in the field will need to do their job, and also provide advice, so maybe “making Sales Engineers happy” could be part of my role, while the product marketer is making the salesman happy:

The sales engineer is primarily responsible for outbound product-centric activities, such as presale support and product demonstrations. Relying on their technical skills, sales engineers help customers understand how the product delivers the necessary value and functionality that address the customers’ business or consumer problem. The sales engineer’s other objective is to provide critical input to product planners on customer needs and problems.

Sales engineers often operate under titles such as product evangelist, technical evangelist, technical sales support, presale engineer, outbound product manager or technical product manager; yet, regardless of title, all perform a relatively similar set of tasks.

The final role is marketing communications, which is a similar to our Services Offerings team:

The marcom manager is primarily responsible for creating interest and demand for products through the conception and copywriting of all collateral material, advertising, direct response mail, Web and other types of communications media. This person is also tasked with maintaining a consistent company image and positioning in the marketplace, according to messages and directives provided by the product marketer.
The product management team is managed by the director of product management, or vice president of product management, who provides overall product vision, product line strategy and team management. Other titles are sometimes used to designate this leadership position, such as director of products or vice-president of products, in order to indicate the encompassing nature of this role.

This person provides guidance to team members and is responsible for furnishing them with resources, tools and uniform processes to do their jobs. On the strategic level, this role is responsible for formulating the company’s product line strategy and driving its implementation, while balancing corporate goals with long-term market trends and opportunities.

This point is quite interesting given my previous point, the article suggests that often the planner and engineer roles are combined, which I just suggested above, however as our company is big there is a one to many relationship with the Product Management function focussed on one time activities, that are then repeated many times in the field:

Frequently, the product planner and sales engineer roles are combined into one position, in which the person is charged with doing product demonstrations and providing presale support because he/she is also defining the product and thus has more expertise and in-depth product knowledge than the average salesperson.

It then suggests that these roles often suit technical people with an MBA.  It just so happens that I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA in Engineering Business Management :-).  I also spent many years as a customer of the company that I am now working for, so I have seen both sides of the business.

Corporate job descriptions for open positions that prefer candidates with a technical undergraduate degree and an MBA with an emphasis in marketing are a clear indication that the company views the position as a combination of the two roles.

I liked the summary: 

Product management is a domain, not a role, and it changes and evolves with the organization. It is a multifaceted and multi-disciplined domain; therefore, there will always be some ambiguity involved, but it can be significantly mitigated by applying a proper product management team concept and structure, with well-defined roles and responsibilities. Doing so is crucial—whether the company is building or rebuilding the corporate product management function.

As a result of the team restructuring and the redefinition of roles, the newly attained occupational focus helps build professional expertise.

I particularly liked this section:

The product planner can now devote time and effort to excel as a market expert and problem-teller whose role is to perform customer advocacy better than everyone else in the company, while backing assertions with quantitative market/customer data.

The product marketer is now focused on becoming a process expert, perfecting corporate competency in using tools and executing techniques, processes and tasks; that promotes winning products in the marketplace.

All this decreases departmental rivalry and allows the engineers to develop their professional expertise as technology experts and problem solvers.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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